Recently, I received an early morning phone call from my parents in Europe. While I talk to my parents once a week when they are on vacation, I never receive calls first thing in the morning. I thought to myself that something must be wrong. Making things worse, trying to communicate with my parents was difficult since the phone connection on their cruise was terrible. However, I was able to understand them saying, “Grandpa is in the hospital.” Fortunately, my parents established a better connection and explained my grandfather’s medical situation and that the matter was not an emergency. While not an emergency, at ninety-four, anytime he is in the hospital it’s not small potatoes.
The next few days I was in constant communication with my grandfather, his doctors and my parents. I feel like I got a crash course in medicine, learning about different medications and procedures. Trying to talk with the professionals about the intricacies of his medical situation, and then communicating that information to my parents, often through email, proved to be a challenging, yet doable, task.
After a few days, with his condition still not improving, I decided the best course of action was for me to travel to New York and visit him in the hospital. While packing for my trip, my wife turned around to me and said, “You know, you should write a blog about children and grandchildren who are caregivers for their elderly parents or grandparents. Look at how much time you have spent on the phone over the past few days getting updates on your grandfather’s condition. Can you imagine being a caregiver for a family member day in and day out?”
Consequently, it got me thinking. Who are the millions of people that dedicate their lives to helping their family members in need? Often, caregivers are responsible for helping their family members with mobility issues, cooking meals, shopping, laundry, bathing, companionship and transportation.
Firstly, there about 44 million people who provide unpaid family care to a disabled child, spouse, sibling or parent. Secondly, according to the American Association of Caregiving Youth, there are 1.4 million children between 8 and 18 who are caregivers, and the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, reports that 10 percent of older Americans in their 60s and 12 percent of seniors in their 70s whose parents are living, serve as caregivers. The number of children and seniors who are caregivers was not a statistic I was expecting to discover. It’s hard to imagine someone who is 8 or 79 serving as a caregiver.
While people often are happy to be caregivers for loved ones, the devotion comes with a price. For instance, there is a financial burden placed upon caregivers who are performing unpaid labor. Sadly, the financial costs run deeper than simply not receiving a paycheck because often caregivers are forced to quit their paying job or reduce their hours. This is problematic because it causes people to have reduced pay, which can have lasting consequences on people’s pensions, Social Security earnings and 401k accounts. Furthermore, when adults serve as caregivers, it can lead to problems for their own health. Research discovered that caregivers, despite going to doctor’s visits with family members, are less likely to take preventive health care measures such regularly monitoring their blood pressure and having mammograms and colonoscopies. For children, the negative effects of being a caregiver can manifest themselves when they conflict with homework, socialization with peers and a student’s ability to concentrate in class.
So now that we know a problem exists for caregivers, how can we provide a fix? As I mentioned in a previous blog, “Paid Family Leave: It Impacts Seniors Too!,” Senator Kirstin Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) introduced legislation in Congress that would provide people paid leave in the event they have to look after a sick parent. While this would only help people who are temporary caregivers, at least it’s a start. Other ideas include a caregiver tax credit or allowing caregivers to earn a credit towards future Social Security earnings.
Upon reflection, my week of monitoring my grandfather’s medical condition was easy, compared to the countless tasks caregivers are required to perform every day. Fortunately, my grandfather got better and returned home! Unfortunately, all too often, countless children and seniors must assume a caregiver role that requires them to make sacrifices for a loved one. Hopefully, through public awareness and legislative fixes, we can make policy changes that ensure the financial, physical and emotional wellbeing of caregivers of all ages!
Evan Carmen, Esq. is the Assistant Director for Aging Policy at the B’nai B’rith International Center for Senior Services. He holds a B.A. from American University in political science and a J.D. from New York Law School. Prior to joining B’nai B’rith International he worked in the Office of Presidential Correspondence for the Obama White House, practiced as an attorney at Covington and Burling, LLP, worked as an aide for New York City Council Member Tony Avella and interned for Congressman Gary Ackerman’s office. Click here to read more from Evan Carmen.
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